How to Combat Modern Slavery at the Global Level

Expert Shares Insight into Possible Game-Plan Following Vatican Gathering

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Efforts are underway to create a concrete plan to effectively tackle human trafficking following a Vatican workshop dedicated to putting an end to this global atrocity.

The workshop, titled “Trafficking in Human Beings: Modern Slavery,” was organize in response to a request by Pope Francis.

The November 2-3 event, which was hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in collaboration with the World Federation of the Catholic Medical Association, brought together Church and State leaders, NGOs, and experts in the field of human trafficking from around the world.

According to a statement released by the organizers, the aim of the workshop was to “examine human trafficking and modern slavery in order to establish the real state of this phenomenon and an agenda to combat this heinous crime.”

In a November 4 press briefing following the event, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, said that 50 proposals were developed from the workshop. Another statement will follow in the coming days.

One of the participants of the workshop was Jane Adolphe, Associate Professor of Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. Speaking with ZENIT, she offered her insights into where to go from here:

ZENIT: Based on your observation of the human Trafficking workshop, what sort of concrete plan would you recommend?

Adolphe: Based on my observations of the human trafficking conference, a concrete plan might involve holding separate workshops in the future: one for various practitioners – those who work in the field – to make recommendations for academics and legislators who could then meet in a follow up meeting.  A third and final meeting might involve both groups with the entirety assigned to develop a working group, which in turn, would form a strategy and be charged with putting it in place.

From a perspective of the internal structure of the Catholic Church many different dicasteries deal with the topic of human trafficking and its various elements, for example, the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant Peoples and the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace; it would be interesting to get their feedback during such workshops.

Moreover, there are associations of the faithful working on human trafficking issues that have a juridical status within the Church, such as the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) and CARITAS Internationalis, which also play an important role. An idea that was promoted by ICMC at the workshop and supported by the network of religious sisters and several speakers/observers, was to recommend an annual international day of prayer and fasting be declared possibly on the Feast of St. Josephine Bakhita to combat international trafficking, which would, in turn, be mirrored in each diocese with a side event that all relevant local actors (ecumenical) and media would be invited.  As a pastoral initiative aimed at youth, ICMC also recommended a St. BakhitaYouTube type international video contest whereby youth around the world would create 2-3 minute videos, the best of which would be shown on the global day of prayer.    

ZENIT: Is there a need to reevaluate the language we use in speaking about this issue?

Adolphe: On the need to reevaluate the language used in speaking about human trafficking, first of all, a clear understanding of “human trafficking” is obligatory. It has been defined in international treaties but I did not get the impression that there was a common understanding on the part of the participants.

Secondly, the various themes to be treated might be better delineated. For example, the types of trafficking (e.g. for sexual exploitation, forced labor, human organs and so forth) could be better distinguished from discussions on the manner that trafficking occurs; the measures to combat it; the perpetrators; the victims and so forth. In this regard, the seminal work of Prof. Ann T. Gallagher on human trafficking might be extremely helpful.  An important discussion involved prostitution per se and its relationship to the demand issue. In this latter regard, a consensus was reached that the term “sex worker” should not be used and one suggestion was to employ the term “persons in prostitution”. On this point, it is noteworthy, that the term “young sex worker” has been used within the United Nations System, an obviously disturbing new trend.   

ZENIT: Could you speak about the role of the Church as a moral leader? Especially, what this means in countries that are largely secular?

Adolphe: In specific regard to the role of the Catholic Church, first of all, human trafficking is a plague on society, for believers and non-believers alike, rooted in the fundamental lack of respect for the inherent dignity of every human person – from the moment of conception until natural death. One participant described this worldwide phenomenon as a movement toward “crossing the threshold of inhumanity”. 

The Church collaborates and cooperates with all people of good will; the workshop is a perfect example. Yet, it cannot be denied, that the Church’s moral, religious and spiritual mission along with its teachings and global reach provide the foundation and means to offer new ways to think about issues which have never been effectively addressed, and in some quarters, actively avoided. For example, the workshop courageously took up the demand issue and the question of a person’s disordered desire and will to objectify another human person, and participants refused to sanitize prostitution as a legitimate form of work.

In addition, on the issue of prevention through education, the teachings of the Church on the nature and meaning of human sexuality, marriage and the family and in particular, those developed during the pontificate of Pope John Paul II (soon to be canonized) – are in my view – fundamental to “crossing the threshold of hope” (on this issue).

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Ann Schneible

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